As the 2022 European Adventist Youth Congress in Lahti, Finland, was coming to an end, and the last song was ending with everybody standing side by side, two young women approached me. “We just came to check out the Adventist church,” they said.
I learned that one of them would occasionally visit an Adventist church in Poland, and only came to the Congress because her friend had invited her. What she said next both warmed my heart and made me understand the true value of one of the largest Adventist European events held in many years: “My faith has grown and I have found a new family here. Now, I'm thinking it is time to get baptized.”
I had the privilege, alongside Pastor Jonatan Tejel of the Inter-European Division, to be part of a team of amazing individuals who worked tirelessly to make the Adventist Youth Congress a success. Though it’s only been 10 days since it concluded, I have four “pictures” from this remarkable event that stand out clearly:
As someone who grew up in a smaller church, I can tell you that sometimes we Adventists in Europe need to be reminded that we are not alone or so few. The majority of Adventist churches are struggling in post-Christian Europe, and the number of young people in some of the mission territories doesn’t number more than 40. This was a moment for all of us to remember that we are part of a bigger movement of God.
In moments of loneliness and feeling separated from other believers, we can remember what it’s like to be among thousands of young people worshipping God together; remembering that there really is a big family of God living out their faith just like you do in the midst of what often seems a spiritual desert on this continent. Being part of the bigger picture helps you see how you and your actions support the overall mission of the church, rather than focusing on minor details.
When I moved to England as a teenager and attended my first church service in a completely different worship style and culture, everything felt so alien, to be honest. It took me years to understand that we are all sincerely trying to glorify and worship the same God, whatever our style of worship. That’s why the second picture I saw at the Congress—the focus on tolerance and understanding—is essential to creating a safe and open place where we can study the word of God. What we organizers tried to do was to portray our wider Church through the culture of small groups. Meeting with others in small groups where we could discuss, teach and support each other as men and women growing in Christ offered a more diverse environment than almost any of the participants were accustomed to. Understanding each other is a vital part of that wider, bigger church to which we belong. It’s not all about worship styles: everyone in that diverse, multi-cultural group could truly be called a “seeker.”
It was a wonderful surprise to discover how unlike other events this Congress was. So many new faces were smiling; so many new experiences with Christ were being shared.
I’m grateful that God gave us the opportunity to bring together youth and young adults from two world divisions, embracing 44 European counties, to one location where we could get to know each other and get to Him better. Talking and preaching about unity goes some distance, but living it with hundreds—thousands—of others takes unity to a completely new level. During this special week, it was so beautiful to see young adults from countries where Christian friends are scarce sharing time at cafeteria tables, in the prayer room, in small groups, in social areas, during sports activities, and worshipping together.
Watching unity emerge from the immense diversity of the participants and cultures was one of the most satisfying aspects of this week for me. Committee after committee, prayer after prayer, problem after problem, God gave those of us charged with organizing the event a chance to grow closer to one another, to show young adults that we are all part of the same family. “Family” is more than just a metaphor at an event like this: one couple shared with me that they got married as a direct result of meeting each other at the last European Youth Congress!
One heart-warming gesture that illustrated the spirit of togetherness and unity was the initiative of the Trans-European Division and some anonymous U.S. donors to bring 80 participants from Ukraine to the event—some directly from the war-torn country, and others who are refugees elsewhere in Europe.
Some members and leaders question the value of large, inspirational meetings like the one we just concluded in Finland. But participants only had one request—that it should have been much longer. For them, this event helped them more clearly see that day when Jesus comes for the second time. They could see themselves in that picture, standing close to one another and close to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, worshipping Him and loving each another.
Keep praying for our beautiful young people here in Europe. Begin making plans join us for the next Congress that will take place in Italy in 2027. And if we don’t see you there, when the trumpet has sounded, I look forward to all of us worshipping together for eternity.